The Three Rs of Moving
Several years ago my husband and I packed up our children and pets and left the Los Angeles area for good. We moved to a small mountain community with no street lights and a small telephone directory. Fresh mountain air and four seasons per year were just a few of the treasures waiting for us.
We had a baby, a preschooler and a fifth-grader at the time. I knew the two youngest children would adjust quickly to our move. I was worried about the effects of the relocation on my oldest daughter.
While our new house was in escrow, I contacted the PTA president of my preteen's future school. I have always played an active role in my daughter's education and I wanted to get my foot in the door at the new school immediately. I found out that the PTA was busy planning the annual carnival and I volunteered to work a booth.
By coincidence, the PTA president's daughter, Kathy, was in the same grade as my daughter. I arranged for the two girls to meet before our move, and Kathy introduced my daughter to some of her friends. My daughter started school mid-year as the "new kid," already knowing several fellow students. I don't know who was more relieved, she or I.
A big move, even a positive one, can be stressful on a preteenager. I was pleased that all three of my children had a positive relocation experience, especially the one I worried about most, my preteen.
The Bonds That Tie
Relocation adjustments for a preteen can be more difficult emotionally because "they have established a longer and deeper relationship with the community, neighborhood, friends, school and activities," says Sally Marsh, licensed marriage, family and child therapist at the Association of Psychotherapy and Counseling Services in Marina del Rey, Calif..
"Preteens are more emotionally dependent and bonded to friendships than younger children who would be more dependent on their parents," Marsh says. "Preteens are experiencing an advanced stage of their individuation from their parents."
Put the Pen to Work
Michelle Pearson from Leaf River, Ill. contacted the local Chamber of Commerce for community information prior to moving. She phoned the new school that her daughters would be attending and inquired if any students were interested in a pen pal. The response was positive and Michelle's daughters started writing to future classmates before their move.
"My girls were always excited about their first day of school in a new place so they could meet their pen pals," Michelle says. "They had a head start on making new friends and many of the 'preliminaries,' so to speak, were already out of the way."
Make Room for New Friends
Sharon White and her family have relocated five times in the past 10 years. They now reside in California. "The first thing we look for when looking for a new house is kids the same ages as ours," Sharon says. "This is easy to do by moving near a school within the age group of your children."
Sharon's son enjoyed sports and with each move was enrolled in the sport of the current season through the city's parks and recreation department. Sports helped him make friends in the immediate neighborhood, too, because he blended right in when a game was played down the street.
Sharon's daughters were not involved in sports and were encouraged to invite new acquaintances along for family outings to develop new friendships. New friends in the neighborhood enjoyed being invited over to eat and sleep over.
After a few weeks in a new neighborhood, "we allow the kids to have a party," Sharon says. A BBQ with plenty of soda and snacks is a popular past time for preteens. "The key is to let your kids fill your house with their new friends."
Working Together as a Family
Marsh recommends that parents be patient and understanding of the emotional difficulty preteens experience when separating from their current bonds and starting anew. "Encourage them to keep in touch with their old friends through writing, email or telephone." If possible, arrange for them to visit their friends and school in the past community and invite their friends to visit the new home.
Parents can help by involving their adolescents in the planing stages of the move. "If possible, take the adolescent to visit and explore the new community, perhaps involving them in the decisions of choosing a community, residence and schools," Marsh says.